|Catherine Watkins and Liz Garrett|
Our panel was made up of Jahnine Davis, aged 20, a
sessional trainer with looked after children’s project
Catherine Watkins, a team manager for a local authority
child assessment team;
Liz Garrett, head of policy with Barnardo’s
and Eleanor Brazil, strategic director of community
services with Sutton Council in London, with responsibility for
Interviews by Natasha Salari and David
We asked our panel to assess eight points in the green
1. Children’s services to be judged on joint
working through integrated inspection framework overseen by
Eleanor Brazil: I think in general we would
welcome a more integrated approach to inspection that would allow
for services provided by different parts of the system to be looked
at at the same time.
But there’s an issue to do with whether social care and
welfare would be given as much weight as academic achievement. I
think we would want to see the detail about how that would
Catherine Watkins: Social services protects
children and makes sure their needs are met. We would not want to
see that lost or shared out too thinly so that no-one was taking
the lead and no-one was driving it.
If you share it out amongst everyone then I am concerned that it
would get a bit lost. They need to do more about how they expect us
to work, and they need to redefine everyone’s responsibility.
If you don’t then it won’t improve.
Liz Garrett: I think any inspection regime also
needs to understand the role of the voluntary sector otherwise it
won’t be useful to the voluntary sector role. There’s a
role for service users in the inspection process.
2. The appointment of a children’s director in
every local authority responsible for bringing all children’s
services together as children’s trusts.
Eleanor: We would all feel anxious about a major structural
change. Rather than providing a framework in which people have to
work together it would be better if we had some examples health,
social services and education working together.
Sutton is one of the 35 pathfinder trusts announced by the
government and we have started on services for disabled children,
but we have very much seen that as a pilot to see what works
better. I hope we will be given some time to learn some of the
lessons from the different pathfinders.
I would welcome a children’s director, but see them as
working as part of a partnership and making sure that each agency
plays its part. That’s very different to the idea of someone
managing children’s services which I don’t think would
It is a major structural change in the local authority. Does it
mean the director of social services is no longer responsible for
all social services?
Catherine: Having a children’s director
at the top doesn’t necessarily equal it working at the
bottom. People need to have a common goal. Education, health and
social services have goals but there needs to be a goal shared by
everyone otherwise it will just be a good idea that doesn’t
To me, this just isn’t getting to the grass roots workers
and I would like to know more about “how” it will work.
I’m a bit concerned that it’s all based at the top at
The crisis in recruitment needs to be addressed first. It is
difficult when you are working with agency staff of variable
Liz: It sounds to me like a bit of a
prescribed structural solution. Hopefully there will be some
flexibility as to how it’s all delivered. Those authorities
that already have a long-term strategic plan that conflicts with
this will need to stop and change direction which could cause
delays. The whole issue of finding and supporting people in this
leadership role will be important.
Jahnine: More support for social workers is
needed because they are quite isolated. The team should take
responsibility for mistakes, but ultimately it should be the
managers. In the Victoria Climbie case the managers faded away in
the background. There is not much communication between social
workers and their managers
3. The appointment of an independent children’s
Jahnine: It is a good idea but I am not sure
how it is going to work. We should have had one ages ago. Is this
person going to have contact with children in care, young people in
secure units, gay and lesbian young people and disabled young
people? We need to reach out to the hardest to reach because they
are shut out.
Liz: It would be absolutely great if we could actually see an
independent children’s commissioner and to make sure that all
the children of the UK have access to an independent
I would be concerned that the government may well be offering us
something that falls short of that. It will be a real shame if it
doesn’t go that way. We still have huge numbers of children
in prison in the UK, and our legislation around asylum seekers is
still in breach of the UN Convention on Human Rights in relation to
This paper doesn’t look like it will change any of that.
We would want to see an independent children’s commissioner,
and that means really independent of this whole agenda.
Eleanor: I’m very much in favour of this.
It could make life better for some of the most vulnerable children
Catherine: Anything that can help the voice of
children to be heard is positive. It will fall short if it’s
not completely independent and if the children feel that it
doesn’t mean anything to them.
4. Integrated teams of social workers, Connexions
advisors, health and education professionals in and around
Catherine: I think we need to be working within
the same geographical boundaries and at the moment we all work
across boundaries which makes it difficult. I would like to know
whether one team would manage the service or whether different
workers would come together and then go back to their teams.
I would like to know more about whether it would be an
independent team. It has major implications in terms of who manages
things, and who is responsible and how it would alter the structure
and functions of what we do now. I think it needs a lot more
If you have two children and two different schools you could
have one group of professionals responsible for the family at one
school and another group at the other school. Which group would be
Eleanor: Anything that’s impacting on
children and young people must be related to anything that’s
related to family life and addressed at the same time as anything
that’s impacting on them in relation to school life. It
should still be part of something bigger when it needs to be.
Families don’t work in neat little boundaries. I welcome it,
but would not want it to be too prescriptive.
Liz: Schools at the moment are focused on
educational targets and their funding is reliant upon them
achieving educational targets. That would have to change.
There’s a massive number of children who are not on the
school roll. Where there are exclusions how will that work?
5. Youth justice reforms and in particular greater use
of intensive fostering:
Liz: Intensive fostering is highly expensive
and most local authorities have difficulty in finding placements.
When you try to find new foster parents you tend to get the
existing ones moving around the system. We need more community
Eleanor: There needs to be a lot of work done
with the local courts. Just locking young people up is not going to
Catherine: The kinds of youngsters we place for
fostering are very demanding and we struggle to place them. It is
hard to find carers who will foster young offenders.
Jahnine: It depends on the individual, and it
could make things worse placing a young offender with foster
parents. For many young offenders it won’t do much for them,
but anything is better than a young offenders institution.
6. Child protection register being phased out and
replaced with new tracking system:
Catherine: It is not clear how we are going to
identify these young people, or will they slip through the net.
Information sharing needs to be freer than it is now. For example
if we get a referral should we tell a health visitor.
Liz: It isn’t about open accessible IT
systems, but it is about beginning the useful sharing of
information. Children’s rights have to be respected, and
someone should not just be able to press a button to access a
child’s medical records.
If we want young people to be concerned about child protection
what is the model for how those concerns are shared.
Jahnine: It does go wrong somewhere in the
system. It is about who can get access to information and whether
it is relevant.
Eleanor: It is about people’s attitudes
towards young people. People don’t want to get involved.
7. Workforce issues: New modular qualifications to
enable people to move jobs more easily and a high profile
Catherine: We have already had a recruitment campaign which
wasn’t high profile, and it wasn’t very realistic in
the way it portrayed the job. We need to bring in people who can do
the job and make tough difficult decisions about the lives of
There needs to be enhanced salaries because we get newly
qualified workers, train them up and then they move on. In Kent
staff are paid according to experience which is good.
Eleanor: Sure Start, Connexions and
Children’s Fund projects have far less difficulty recruiting
and you don’t have to be a qualified social worker. If you
have different qualifications that is okay. We advertised recently
for a qualified social worker and we got a range of people with
Jahnine: It is about how you can work with
young people and communicate with them. I have met social workers
and directors who don’t have a clue. They haven’t
worked with young people face to face.
Liz: When people become competent they move on
into management jobs, and we want people to stay. We should be
paying for that expertise and valuing it.
Overall impressions of the green paper:
Eleanor: It is very important to have a green
paper that focuses on making things better for children and young
people, and doing that through getting people to work together
Liz: It looks as if it is brave and radical
and it is good to see it. I’m looking forward to influencing
it so it delivers more effectively for children.